My eyes narrowed when the woman on the voice message told me to call about my “Top Doctor” award. They needed to “make sure everything’s accurate” before they sent me my plaque, she said.
It was a titillating irony. I don’t have a medical degree, and I’m not a physician. But I am an investigative journalist who specializes in healthcare. So I returned the call. I spoke to a cheerful salesperson named Anne at a company called Top Doctor Awards. For some reason, she believed I was a physician and, even better, worthy of one of their awards. I asked how I had been selected. My peers had nominated me, she said buoyantly, and my patients had reviewed me. I must be a “leading physician,” she said.
That’s what many patients looking for a good physician assume. They figure that such awards are backed by rigorous vetting and standards to ensure only the best doctors are recognized. Hospitals and physicians lend credibility to the facade by hanging the awards in their offices and promoting them on their websites. But medicine is complex, and there’s no simple way of determining that some doctors are better than others.
“It says you work for a company called ProPublica,” Anne said.
I responded that I did and that I was actually a journalist, not a doctor. Was that going to be a problem, or could they still give me the Top Doctor award?
There was a pause. Clearly, I had thrown a curve into her script. She regrouped quickly. Yes, she decided, I could have the award. Anne’s bonus, I thought, must be volume-based.
Then we got down to business. The honor came with a customized plaque, with my choice of cherrywood with gold trim or black with chrome trim. I mulled over which vibe better fit my unique brand of medicine.
“There’s a nominal fee for the recognition,” she said, reverting to the stilted cadence of someone reading a script. “It’s a reduced rate. Just $289. We accept Visa, Mastercard, and American Express.”
That sounded a little spendy to get past the ProPublica bean counters. I hesitated.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
LOOKING to the FUTURE
What will the next 100 years bring? Our collective future is actually pretty bright.
Humor connects us to one another. But how has what we find funny changed over the past 100 years?
Our Two Cents on Cryptocurrency
Taking a Scalpel to Medical Debt
JEFF JENSEN WAS in a quandary. The entrepreneur and Boy Scout leader was hobbled by painful nerve damage in his leg and foot.
For the parents of the bride, fear replaces happiness as a raging river scoops up their car on the way to the wedding
She Fell for Him
An injured trail runner finds help—and love—from a knight on a mountain bike
The Fight to Save Texas's Spectacular CORAL REEFS
A team of unlikely allies came together to expand protections, but will it be enough?
The Hottest Kitchen Tip? Freezing
FOOD for Thought
We Found a FIX Helps, Hacks, & How to
Run Interference at Your Super Bowl Party, and more
WHAT Roots MEANS TO ME
Alex Haley’s landmark book began in Reader’s Digest, where he worked as a senior editor. The repercussions are still being felt today.